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Activists Point to Paris but the Facts Tell a Different Story

As a fact check campaign, Truth from the Tap is used to correcting activists’ twisted case studies and examples that conveniently leave out important facts or perpetuate myths and falsehoods.  In fact, when we exposed Food & Water Watch’s case studies as full of false and misleading claims, the group pulled all 34 of them down from its website.

So, we decided to check out another example routinely cited by activists both in the United States and overseas about the remunicipalization of the Paris drinking water system in 2010.

Beginning in 1985, leaders in Paris decided to contract with two professional water services companies to operate the city’s drinking water system. Splitting the city in half at the Seine River, 25-year contracts were entered into with two companies: SUEZ and Veolia.

Twenty-three years later, in 2008, as Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë was running for reelection, his coalition partners in the Green and Communist parties demanded that he include remunicipalization of the city’s water system in his platform.  Thus, upon his reelection, the city did not renew contracts with SUEZ and Veolia despite the companies’ high performance record and no opposition to private operation from local citizen groups.[i]

After an 18-month transition period, Eau de Paris, the new public company created to run the water system, began operations on January 1, 2010.[ii]

Activists have hailed the remunicipalization in Paris as a great success, claiming it has resulted in lower water rates, increased investment, and better service.[iii] Corporate Accountability International (CAI) has praised the result, saying that, “Paris has done what so many city officials have dreamed of” with the takeover.[iv]

 

However, the facts tell a very different story: 

  • Veolia and Suez invested heavily and greatly improved the system during their 25-year contracts. While water rates were slightly higher under private operation, those rates helped fuel vast improvements in failing water infrastructure in Paris. Over the 25 years of private operation, old lead pipes were replaced to improve drinking water quality, internal systems were modernized, faulty meters were replaced, and water losses were reduced substantially from 24% to just 4%.[v]
  • The current investment level under Eau de Paris is significantly lower than under private operation. Third-party analysis of Eau de Paris’s investments show that infrastructure investments are far lower than under private operation, standing at a third of the French average. Eau de Paris invests just 20 Euros per inhabitant per year back into the system as of 2015. Due to the low investment levels, just 0.2% of the pipeline network is renewed each year, a rate that would leave pipes in the ground for 500 years before being replaced. Experts say that Eau de Paris cannot maintain its assets under its current rate structure, and therefore may need to incur commercial debt to properly run the system.[vi]
  • The current system has a serious leakage problem. The Paris system is currently losing water at a rate six times the national average, likely due to the slow replacement rate for old pipes under Eau de Paris.[vii]

While activists blindly point to Paris as a grand success, the actual facts do not substantiate their claims. Paris is yet another example of activists trying to create a false narrative to fit their ideological agenda.


[i] TNI, “Paris: local authorities regain control of water management” 24 August 2010 (https://www.tni.org/en/article/paris-local-authorities-regain-control-of-water-management); Manuel Schiffler, “Water, Politics and Money: A Reality Check on Privatization” 2015.
[ii] Water Remunicipalisation Tracker, “Paris” (http://www.remunicipalisation.org/#case_Paris); FuturePolicy.org, “The Remunicipalisation of Water Services in Paris, France” (http://www.futurepolicy.org/food-and-water/remunicipalisation-of-water-services-paris/).
[iii] TNI, “Paris: local authorities regain control of water management” 24 August 2010 (https://www.tni.org/en/article/paris-local-authorities-regain-control-of-water-management); Corporate Accountability International, “Shutting the Spigot on Private Water: The case for the World Bank to divest” April 2012 (http://www.municipalservicesproject.org/sites/municipalservicesproject.org/files/Case-World-Bank-to-Divest.pdf); Municipal Services Project, “Remunicipalisation: Putting Water Back into Public Hands” 2012 (http://www.municipalservicesproject.org/publication/remunicipalisation-putting-water-back-public-hands); Transnational Institute and PSIRU, “Here to Stay: Water Remunicipalisation as a Global Trend” November 2014 (https://www.tni.org/files/download/heretostay-en.pdf).
[iv] Corporate Accountability International, “Shutting the Spigot on Private Water: The case for the World Bank to divest” April 2012 (http://www.municipalservicesproject.org/sites/municipalservicesproject.org/files/Case-World-Bank-to-Divest.pdf).
[v] Manuel Schiffler, “Water, Politics and Money: A Reality Check on Privatization” 2015.
[vi] Manuel Schiffler, “Water, Politics and Money: A Reality Check on Privatization” 2015.
[vii] Manuel Schiffler, “Water, Politics and Money: A Reality Check on Privatization” 2015.
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